Aurora, the regal old gyrfalcon who’d served as the Air Force Academy’s official mascot for 23 long years, died Wednesday, according to a statement from the university. Aurora had already been serving for four years when that photo up there was taken, in September 2000. This was a good old bird.
Aurora made the news last year for only slightly less depressing reasons, when she and another mascot, then-15-year-old Oblio, were abducted by a pair of West Point cadets ahead of a November Air Force-Army football game. The cadets threw sweaters over the two falcons and chucked them into dog crates, where the falcons—who, notably, are not dogs—freaked out and began thrashing around in a panic. Aurora “suffered abrasions that bloodied her wings,” and the cadets, realizing the cruelty and stupidity of what they’d done, hastily returned the falcons to their falconer pals, who successfully nurtured them back to health.
The very interesting website for the Air Force falconry program says gyrfalcons make up about three percent of the world’s falcon population, and that just one percent of gyrfalcons are white, making Aurora an exceedingly rare specimen. Oblio, her fellow abductee, is a 15-year-old male tundra peregrine falcon, and now appears to be the elder statesman of the Academy’s seven-bird lineup. Now all I want to do is read about falcons. The Academy says this was one of Aurora’s contributions—that she served as “an ambassador for all falcons,” helping to “educate the public on the importance of these majestic birds.” Aurora, well done.